Alcohol & American Voting

Voting is lofted as the cornerstone of democracy, and today there are a myriad of laws in our country defining acceptable behavior at polling places. For instance, each state has a legally defined buffer extending from the front door of the voting place (usually 30-200 feet) in which no one is allowed to do any campaigning. In colonial America however, things were much more lax. For his 1757 Virginia Assembly bid George Washington blew his campaign budget on 144 gallons of beer, cider, punch, and wine—which he distributed among polling places.

It worked. Washington won that election, and no one put up a fuss about it since buying votes with booze and feasts was common place back then. Some candidates would even arrange to have polling places located inside of saloons, and would offer a drink to any man who voted for him. In 1876 republicans in Brooklyn trotted a pair of oxen through the streets before slaughtering and roasting them in Myrtle Avenue Park. I don’t know if there is enough meat on two oxen to make 50,000 sandwiches, but those are the reported attendance numbers for this campaign ploy.

Such campaign tactics were considered the norm until Prohibition killed the tradition of buying votes with booze on Election Day. To this day the sale of alcohol is still illegal on election day in Kentucky and South Carolina.

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